Neil Diamond opens his new album with a pledge: to take the listener down the titular “Melody Road,” a way lined with many love songs. The resulting album is pleasant, but not a radical departure from Diamond’s other works. This latest release is the 32nd of his career, and while it’s a seemingly impossible task for an artist to release 32 albums worth of quality content, “Melody Road” proves Diamond can still create an enjoyable record, even if it doesn’t break any new ground compared to Diamond’s past 31 albums.
What makes “Melody Road” work is the marriage between the production and Diamond himself. Most of the songs deal with similar issues of love, marriage and loss. It would be easy for all of them to be similar in message and execution. Instead, Jacknife Lee and Don Was, the producers of “Melody Road,” use strings, drums and choirs to make each feel as different as possible. The individual tracks run the risk of being forgettable, but the wide array of instrumentation to go along with Diamond’s acoustic guitar dodge this possible staleness, and ultimately there are no songs that stand out on the record as poor.
“Nothing but a Heartache” encapsulates how the album succeeds. With melodramatic lyrics like, “It felt alone and unattended,” the writing could feel lazy, especially in the hands of a lesser artist. However, with Diamond, listeners feel the dissonance and pain in his vocals. The instrumentation builds in tandem with his performance and acoustic work throughout the album.
Despite its effective instrumentals, “Melody Road” doesn’t break any new ground. It’s still Diamond, and much of it does sound similar from track-to-track, albeit pleasant. In addition, the stories of love and loss on “Melody Road” have been done before by other artists, though Diamond has thankfully provided his own twist on other love tropes in his own emotional, wistful way.
“Melody Road” is a genuine, well-done and well-executed album, though it does run the risk of touching upon some tired themes, as many other artists have spoken about losing love or getting married for decades. Despite all this, “Melody Road” still succeeds a good, easy listen — just don’t expect to hear anything new.